This is the third in a series of sermons at St. Thomas' largely based upon Tom Wright's book 'Virtue Reborn.'
I wonder what you want to be when you grow up? To give you a few minutes to think about it, we asked a few people that question this week.
[At this point in the sermon a video of a vix-pop of members of the congregation, youth group and a local school was played, each person answering the question, 'When I Grow Up I want to be....]
I wonder what you wanted to be when you grew up? What you want to be when you grow up?
This is a question that lots of year 11 and 12 students ask themselves around this time of year. The answer drives their choice on whether to go to university or not, what course to study, sometimes even where to study. Of course it’s not just a question we face at the end of high school. All through childhood we dream about what we might be when we grow up. Sometimes we change our minds every day!
And as we saw from some of those people in the video, it’s a question we still ask ourselves even when we’re all grown up. We still have things we aspire to, or we still (like the last person) struggle to answer. I’m sure like me, you know people who’ve changed their minds about what they want to be. Who chop and change degrees, jobs, or careers. It used to be that once you found a career you stuck with it, now staying in the same job for five years is considered a long time.
Thankfully, as we try and clarify what we’re meant to be, there’s no shortage of advice. Parents, family, friends might all have ideas of what we should do. There’s career counsellors, and personality tests to find out what your ideal job is.
Well, what about God? What does God want us to be?
Where would you look to find the answer to that question?
What do we see at the beginning?
26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;
27So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
As you look at that passage, what title, what role does God appear to have in store for us? What has he designed us to be?
It mightn’t be that clear, because the translation we have uses the word dominion, but that word can also be translated rule or reign. It’s unfortunate, because we shy away from the idea of dominion, or domination don’t we? (Unless it’s a card game). It has so many negative connotations in our world. It speaks of abuse or mistreatment. We mightn’t like the idea of humanity being told to dominate the world.
But we mustn’t let our preconceptions cloud our view of the kind of rule God had in mind. God instructs Adam and Eve to rule over the garden. You can’t dominate, or tyrannically rule a garden. You can’t force soil to produce whatever you want without care or concern for it. If you do, you’re likely to end up with a wilderness. But God made us to rule over creation, to care for it and see it flourish and be fruitful. The kind of rulers God wants us to be, is the kind of ruler he is, kind, benevolent, nurturing. This is a key point – we’re to reflect the Creator to creation.
Of course if we’re going to do that, we need to be in a right relationship with God. How else can we reflect what we don’t know? How can we be God’s rulers in the world, if we’re not placing ourselves under God’s rule?
That’s precisely what we failed to do in the Fall. In Genesis 3, we abuse our delegated authority and we, and all of creation, suffer for it. But just because the image is marred, it doesn’t mean the ideal is lost. In passages like Psalm 8, we see the ideal held out still, our vocation hasn’t been cancelled.
In the unfolding story of the Bible we see God beginning with Abraham’s family, then with the nation Israel, calling out a people who are meant to live out our vocation, to be rulers in his name, demonstrating to the world what that looks like. Of course, because of sin, they can never perfectly live up to it.
Until God sends his Son, Jesus, into the world. Jesus is perfectly human, without sin. He’s the decisive answer to what God’s plan for our lives looks like. Obedient humans, following the Obedient Human, acting as stewards over creation, bringing new creation to birth and gathering the praises of creation to present to it’s maker. Jesus doesn’t come to take over, to say you guys had your chance to be rulers, now it’s my turn. He straight away shares the responsibility back with us! Paul writes about this extensively in the book of Romans, that Jesus has put God’s plan back on track:
17If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
And so, that’s the picture we see at the end of the Bible. If we take a sneak peak at how it all turns out, what do we see?
3But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
We see us ruling with Christ! How incredible is that! How amazing! We reign with Christ in heaven, we share in his glory, we too are glorified!
But did you see in that passage from Revelation what our other role is? It’s to be priests, to gather up the worship of creation and present it before our Creator. Just as we’re called to reflect Creator to creation, we’re also called to reflect creation to it’s creator. When we put these two ideas together, we realise that God wants us to be, God created us to be, intermediaries, between him and his world.
Again, this isn’t something new. Jewish tradition holds that it’s there in Genesis 1-2. Like me, you mightn’t see that at first in Genesis, but it is obvious elsewhere. Listen to what God says to Israel after he’s rescued them from Egypt.
5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.
Peter reflects this in the reading we had earlier.
1 Peter 2:9
9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation!
You can’t get much better than that! It’s a pretty lofty calling!
What do you want to be when you grow up? Once we’ve worked that out you can work backwards to determine the steps you need to get there. If you want to be a doctor, you need to go to uni, study medicine, do an internship, then a residency, and then some kind of specialist training
But if God wants us to be Priests and Rulers, what do we need to do now, to prepare? How can we start living that out here and now? By the way this is what we’ve been saying is the method of transforming character, of developing virtue:
1.Having the right goal.
2.Working out the steps you need to get there.
3.Making those steps habitual, a matter of second nature.
So if God wants us to be Priests and rulers when we grow up, what does that mean for now? Am I somehow closer to God’s intended plan when I do this? Are Chris and I the only ones getting it right, or at least half right?
God doesn’t intend us to all be Anglican priests. We’re all priests. We’re a kingdom of royal priests! This goes deeper than the individual vocations we might have. You might say being a doctor, or a teacher, or a vet, or a ballerina, is a secondary vocation. What we really are is a royal priesthood and a holy nation.
So if that’s the goal what might it look like? What are some steps can we take to start exercising our priestly rule the way God intends? Here are just a few of the ideas I've had, I'm sure you can come up with many more!
Right relationship with God
As we’ve said. How can we be intermediaries, if we don’t know God? We need to be in tune with God first and foremost.
If God designed us to be the pinnacle of creation, those who speak for creation, who gather up the praise and worship of creation, then shouldn’t we be regular at worshipping God together here and now? Might say I’m preaching to the choir, you’ve all turned up. But it’s also about the attitude of our heart when we come to worship. God desires that our worship be authentic. So whether we follow the set liturgy, or use new words, as we have today, we need to do so with devoted hearts and minds.
If we turn back to Romans 5:17, we see another implication for us. In some ways Roman’s is the book about virtue. Paul has a very clear picture of what the future glory we’re going to share in with Christ looks like. He’s determined that we start living that life out here and now. Go back to 5:17, see line that death exercised dominion over us; elsewhere Paul talks about us being ruled by our fleshly desires. What a complete inversion of what God intended! We’re meant to rule over creation, instead we let the one bit of creation that we do have control over, our own bodies, to rule us. In Romans Paul calls us to ‘by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body.’
Care for the world
Caring for creation. Ethically choosing, sacrificially choosing how to live, in order to not exploit creation, but nurture and care for it. Might be as simple as choosing more eggspensive eggs at the supermarket. Buying fair-trade. Might be costly and expensive, but that’s the kind of people God wants us to be. Part of what it means to be rulers over his creation.
There’s another hint of what living as a royal priesthood might look like for us, immediately after that in Romans 8:18-25. In this extraordinary passage Paul says creation itself is groaning and longing for our glorification, when the world will be put right. Then he says we too are groaning, in and through the Spirit while we wait for our glorification. Not the kind of groaning and moaning I’ve been doing over the last few days, but praying! We’re to fulfil our role as priests, interceding before God not just for ourselves, but on behalf of all creation!
I’m sure you’ll be able to think of more implications, more steps to take. We’ll be looking at more of them in weeks to come. As God’s chosen, royal priesthood, we rule in God’s place, carrying on the work of tending creation, of creating new things. So that God’s plan for creation might be fulfilled, his purposes worked out in our world. We carry the praise and worship of the creation back to it’s Creator. We lead creation in worshipping God, so that God might be glorified as he deserves.